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Maradona selects 23-man squad for World Cup

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, two of soccer's biggest stars, officially are headed to the World Cup.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona chose most of the nation's top players Wednesday for his final 23-man squad. Messi, of Barcelona, and Carlos Tevez, of Manchester City, will lead the team to South Africa, where it opens against Nigeria on June 12.

Argentina faces Canada on Monday at River Plate's stadium in Buenos Aires in their currently last scheduled warm-up before the World Cup. The 1978 and '86 champion also faces Greece and South Korea in Group B.

Argentine officials confirmed for the first time that the team will depart for South Africa on May 28.

Maradona, who presented a provisional 30-man squad last week, selected a group that includes three goalkeepers, seven defenders, seven at midfield and six forwards. The big surprise on the squad was the inclusion of defender Ariel Garce, who played his first international match for Argentina earlier this month against Haiti.

Maradona will have as many weapons as any coach in the World Cup. The list released Wednesday included tremendous power up front, led by Messi, Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain.

He is likely to start Messi with Tevez or Higuain, with a midfield anchored by Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron, Jonas Gutierrez and Angel Di Maria. The four starters on defense are expected to be Nicolas Otamendi, Martin Demichelis, Walter Samuel and Gabriel Heinze.

The starting goalkeeper is almost sure to be Sergio Romero of Dutch club AZ Alkmaar.

Garce was one of the few surprises, having played only with the national team in a 4-0 victory over Haiti. Garce was suspended for six months for doping in 2006 and plays for the Argentine club Colon. He was selected over Inter Milan defender and captain Javier Zanetti.

Argentina struggled to reach the World Cup, qualifying fourth, the last automatic spot from South America. Maradona has been in charge for 19 months, but has failed to show the same great flair as a coach that he had as a player.

Maradona was invisible Wednesday, but was expected to hold a news conference over the weekend. The Argentine federation released the player list on its website, which was clogged for several hours as fans scurried to see the final squad.

Argentina has stumbled in recent World Cups. The Gauchos were eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2006, and were knocked out in the group stage in 2002. In 1998 in France, Argentina also reached the quarterfinals before being ousted.

In 1994 in the United States, Argentina reached the final 16 before going out. In that World Cup — his last as a player — Maradona was suspended after the second match for testing positive for what was described as a "cocktail" of performance-enhancing drugs, including ephedrine.

Argentina finished second in the 1990 World Cup, which came four years after its second World Cup title in Mexico.

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The roster:

Goalkeepers: Mariano Andujar (Catania), Diego Pozo (Colon), Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, Nethlerlands).

Defenders: Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma, Italy), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich, Germany), Ariel Garce (Colon), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille, France), Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan, Italy).

Midfielders: Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina, Italy), Angel Di Maria (Benfica, Portugal), Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle, England), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England), Javier Pastore (Palermo, Italy), Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool, England), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes) .

Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid, Spain), Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Spain), Diego Milito (Inter Milan, Italy), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City, England).